Published: July 28 2023
Steeped in tradition and brimming with festive cheer, Christmas in Hungary is an essential part of the country's cultural heritage. Families and friends gather to celebrate this significant time of the year with unique customs, traditional food, and vibrant spectacle. If you've ever wondered about how Hungarians observe this festive season, here you go!
The Advent Season
Most Hungarian families begin the Christmas season with Advent. This period starts four Sundays before Christmas, and many households feature an Advent wreath with four candles. One candle is lit each Sunday during this period, symbolizing joy, peace, love, and hope.
Mikulás - Hungarian Santa Claus
Hungarian children look forward to the arrival of Mikulás, or St. Nicholas, on December 6th. On the preceding night, they clean their boots and put them in the window, in expectation of gifts. The good kids receive chocolates and other treats, while the naughty ones get a golden birch, a symbol of spanking - all in good jest.
Little Jesus or Jézuska
Unlike most Western traditions that attribute gift giving to Santa Claus, Hungarian children wait for Little Jesus, or Jézuska, to bring their gifts. On Christmas Eve, children are usually sent to another room or out for a walk while "Jézuska" leaves the presents under the tree.
Christmas Eve – Szenteste
Christmas Eve, or Szenteste, is the most significant part of Hungarian Christmas. Families gather to decorate the Christmas tree, often with replicas of traditional gingerbread cookies. The Bethlehemes játék, a nativity play, is a staple in many communities. As the evening settles, families typically share a festive meal, which traditionally includes fish soup and stuffed cabbage.
For many Hungarians, attending the midnight mass is an essential part of Christmas Eve. The service usually includes the reenactment of the nativity scene. The highlight of the mass is often a beautiful performance by a local choir, singing traditional Hungarian Christmas carols.
Christmas Day and Boxing Day
In Hungary, both December 25th and 26th are holidays, allowing for continued celebrations with family and friends. Traditional dishes like duck and roast pork, poppy seed rolls, and Beigli, a type of pastry, are commonly enjoyed. Christmas cookies, especially honey bread cookies, are another delightful feature of Hungarian Christmases.
In conclusion, Christmas in Hungary is a beautiful blend of rich traditions, family gatherings, delicious food, and festive cheer. Each unique aspect adds to the charm of this season, making a Hungarian Christmas a truly special experience.